NHL Brings Cutting-Edge Tracking Technology to Games
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NHL Brings Cutting-Edge Tracking Technology to Games

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Photo by NNC Public Affairs Photography

Gary Bettman did it. The commissioner of the NHL, in announcing new real-time, in-game technology for league games, brought up the glowing puck that Fox used in the 1990s.

Don’t worry. This isn’t your father’s puck tracker.

Bettman, at his annual All-Star weekend press conference Friday in San Jose, acknowledged that advanced technology might have started with the FoxTrax, but he raved about the new technology that will be used for NHL games starting next season.

Sensors in pucks will track movement at a real-time rate of 2,000 times per second, and senors worn by players will track movement at 200 times per second.

The technology “will instantaneously detect passes, shots and positioning precisely,” Bettman said. “It will be equally accurate in tracking players, their movement, speed, time on ice, you name it.”

The technology – it really needs a catchy nickname, don’t you think? – was developed in conjunction with jogmo world, a subsidiary of Fraunhofer, Europe’s largest applied research organization.

It was tested at the 2016 World Cup and the All-Star Game last year in Tampa. Then, earlier this month, it was used it during two NHL games in Las Vegas, against the Rangers and Sharks.

Bettman said San Jose’s Brent Burns and Jonathan Marchessault each skated more than three miles during their game where the tracking was used. Vegas’ William Karlsson skated over 20 mph.

So how fast are Bryan Rust or Phil Kessel skating in Penguins games? How hard does Kris Letang shoot the puck? We’ll find out, without guesswork.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Bettman said, explaining that the technology originally was created to enhance broadcasts of a sport that some find hard to follow on TV but now will provide fans, viewers and reporters with more information to follow and understand the sport.

“We think many of our fans – especially the innovation generations, the millennials and Gen Z – are going to love this new frontier,” Bettman said.

Mathieu Schneider, a former NHL player now with the NHL Players Association, said the players are on board with introducing the technology.

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“The hope for players is that we’re going to have better, more accurate stats,” he said. “The second thing is that it’s going to be able to enhance the broadcasts. It is challenging to show such a fast game on TV.

“This is the future. To have this content for the second screens and streaming services is obviously a part of the development.”

Bettman noted hockey is the first sport that will wade into such detailed real-time technology; Schneider said the difference between being the first and the last is not large.

Schneider said the NHLPA told the players: “If we’re not doing this stuff now, we’re going to be left behind.

“There are guys who are a little skeptical into how the data will be used, and we’ve (added) some protections into this agreement, but I would say the players are very hopeful that we’re going to be able to see a lot of progress and the positives are going to far outweigh the negatives when it all shakes out.”

Schneider, who did not take questions during the press conference, did not outline what those protections are, and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to add much detail despite a long-winded answer.

“We have a fairly comprehensive agreement with the players association with respect with the use of the player- and puck-tracking data,” Daly said. “I don’t think I want to get more specific than that, other than certainly we have the right to use it, when we have the right to use it, what we can use it for, who has access to it and when, and the like. But basically we’ve agreed with the players association that we can use the data to try to generate interest in the sport and engagement in the sport, understanding that that will be good for both sides. The rest of it is legalese.”

Daly, like Bettman and Schneider, believes the new technology will offer a better way to analyze what is going on during games and how players are performing.

“It’s time for the next generation of statistical analytics,” Daly said.

Which is a rink-long slap shot removed from the days of FoxTrax.

“No,” Bettman said, “we are not bringing the glowing puck back.”

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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